Lipopolysaccharides in bacterial membranes act like cholesterol in eukaryotic plasma membranes in providing protection against melittin-induced bilayer lysis.
Melittin is a small, cationic peptide that, like many other antimicrobial peptides, lyses cell membranes by acting on their lipid bilayers. However, the sensitivity to antimicrobial peptides varies among cell types. We have performed direct binding and vesicle leakage experiments to determine the sensitivity to melittin of bilayers composed of various physiologically relevant lipids, in particular, key components of eukaryotic membranes (cholesterol) and bacterial outer membranes (lipopolysaccharide or LPS). Melittin binds to bilayers composed of both zwitterionic and negatively charged phospholipids, as well as to the highly charged LPS bilayers. The magnitude of the free energy of binding (deltaG degrees ) increases with increasing bilayer charge density; deltaG degrees = -7.6 kcal/mol for phosphatidylcholine (PC) bilayers and -8.9 to -11.0 kcal/mol for negatively charged bilayers containing phosphatidylserine (PS), phospholipids with covalently attached polyethylene glycol (PEG-lipids), or LPS. Comparisons of these data show that binding is not markedly affected by the steric barrier produced by the PEG in PEG-lipids or by the polysaccharide core of LPS. The addition of equimolar cholesterol to PC bilayers reduces the level of binding (deltaG degrees = -6.4 kcal/mol) and reduces the extent of melittin-induced leakage by 20-fold. LPS and 1:1 PC/cholesterol bilayers have similar high resistance to melittin-induced leakage, indicating that cholesterol in eukaryotic plasma membranes and LPS in Gram-negative bacteria provide strong protection against the lytic effects of melittin. We argue that this resistance is due at least in part to the similar tight packing of the lipid acyl chains in PC/cholesterol and LPS bilayers. The addition of bacterial phospholipids to LPS bilayers increases their sensitivity to melittin, helping to explain the higher sensitivity of deep rough bacteria compared to smooth phenotypes.
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